Fabio Aru (Astana) showed maximum resilience on Monday's final summit finish of the Vuelta a Espana as the Italian climber lost the overall lead, but by the barest minimum, to Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha).
After Astana had tapped out a steady rhythm on the second last climb of stage 16 and Aru's teammate Mikel Landa then kept up a ferociously high pace on the upper slopes of the Ermita del Alba, the Vuelta leader seemed several times to be situated overly far back in the tiny favourites group for such a potentially dangerous finale.
However, Landa's relentless drive up the Ermita del Alba in fact left all of the contenders struggling merely to stay on the his wheel, with both Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge) coming unstuck largely thanks to Landa's speed.
Aru, on the other hand, seemed to be handling the pace better than his position in the group would suggest, and when Rodriguez finally unfurled his last attack, the Italian was never too far behind.
Just two seconds down on Rodriguez at the finish, Aru is now one second behind the Spaniard overall, a mirror image of the overall situation after stage 15, when the Italian was ahead of his Katusha rival. And having limited his losses so well the Astana leader was understandably upbeat about his chances in the days to come.
"Today was difficult, I tried my best on the last climb, but there's an important time trial to come and one second's time difference between me and Rodriguez won't count for so much," Aru said before getting in the race organisation helicopter set to fly the top 10 riders on GC to their team hotels in Burgos.
"To be honest, I was just following Purito in the last kilometres. He was going very well. We tried to control him with my teammates but we couldn't follow him all the way."
Now second overall, Aru concluded by saying his next goal will be, predictably enough, to rest as best he can for a time trial that could well end up deciding the 2015 Vuelta's final podium - and whether he or Rodriguez is the best placed climber for the race's final leg down to Madrid.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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